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    South Asia
     Feb 8, 2006
The Taliban's bloody foothold in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - By taking control of virtually all of Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, the Taliban have gained a significant base from which to wage their resistance against US-led forces in Afghanistan. At the same time, the development solidifies the anti-US resistance groups in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, which will now fight under a single strategy.

The Taliban recently declared the establishment of an "Islamic state" in North Waziristan, and they now, through the brutal



elimination of the criminal elements who previously held sway, in effect rule in the rugged territory.

As a tribal area, North Waziristan has always enjoyed significant independence from Islamabad, and even on the occasions when the Pakistani army has ventured into the area to root out foreign fighters or Afghan resistance figures, it has received fierce opposition, and in effect been forced to back off.

The Taliban and their supporters plant roadside bombs on the routes used by the Pakistani paramilitary forces, and virtually every day one or two vehicles are blown up. This measure is aimed to keep the security forces away from the actual tribal areas of Waziristan. In short, the writ of the Pakistani political agent (the central government's representative) barely extends beyond Miramshah Bazaar and Wana Bazaar (the official headquarters). Everywhere else, the Taliban are calling the shots.

Asia Times Online has viewed a video disc released by the Taliban that illustrates their control in North Waziristan. The footage includes their bases, where thousands of youths are present, preparations for an attack into Afghanistan, and shots of criminals executed at a public rally staged by the Taliban.

The government of Pakistan has termed the executions "tyranny".

The video opens with pictures of the headless bodies of criminals strung up in Miramshah Bazaar, executed by the Taliban.

The next segment showcases the establishment of strong bases in which thousands of turban-clad youths can be seen with guns. Commanders scan the ranks and select a squad to launch a guerrilla attack on a US base in Khost province in Afghanistan. They put on headbands with the wording "There is no God but the one God; Mohammed is the messenger of God."

The fighters emerge from their base at night and head for Khost. After a 30-minute battle, flames can be seen rising from within the US base. The squad returns before dawn.

The video also includes the "official" announcement of the establishment of an Islamic state in Waziristan (which includes the tribal area of South Waziristan) and a declaration of the Taliban's rule in North Waziristan.

This development confirms an Asia Times Online article describing how al-Qaeda and its allies - in this case the Taliban - would establish bases from which to coordinate and strengthen its global war against the United States (Al-Qaeda goes back to base, November 4, 2005).

This announcement of an Islamic state is interpreted as a prelude to the Taliban's summer offensive, precisely at a time when Iran's nuclear dossier will be submitted to the United Nations Security Council, and both Europe and the US will be mounting pressure on Tehran to abandon its nuclear program.

The US and Iran being at loggerheads sits very well with al-Qaeda's plans to establish bases and a unified command system of anti-US resistance from Iraq to Afghanistan. Iran is at present the only missing link in this strategy.

Despite little love being lost between the Taliban and Iran, al- Qaeda's Egyptian camp has retained its traditional decades-old ties with the Iranian regime. The real ideologue of the Iranian revolution of 1979 was Dr Ali Shariati, who was inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood's Syed Qutub. Similarly, the Islamic Jihad of Palestine officially claims its inspiration from the Shi'ite Iranian revolution, despite being a completely Sunni Islamic group.

Al-Qaeda's link with Iran, although at a very low level, could prove critical in the coming months. Should Iran find itself sanctioned, or even attacked by the US, few states would dare to support Tehran.

Al-Qaeda, however, would seize the opportunity, asking in return that it be given its desperately needed corridor through Iran to link Afghanistan and Pakistan with Iraq and the Arab world.

A silent revolution
The Taliban video disc, which is a mixture of Pashtu and Urdu, maintained that criminals had been calling the shots in North Waziristan. They routinely abducted children and sodomized them, and they charged protection money from shopkeepers, from transport operators, and even for marriage ceremonies. The gangs were headed by an Afghan, Hakeem Khan Zadran. They had various sanctuaries where drugs, women and alcohol were available.

The government, too, was claimed to have paid the criminals so that they would not interfere with official business.

But a turning point came last December. A group of Taliban fighters were heading to Khost to launch an operation in Afghanistan when they were stopped by some criminals demanding money for safe passage. The Taliban refused, and were allowed to pass. However, a few kilometers further down the road the criminals fired a rocket and blew up the vehicle. Four Taliban belonging to the Wazir tribe were killed.

The incident outraged local supporters of the Taliban, who converged near Miramshah and warned people to leave their homes if they lived near criminals. A raid was then conducted on one criminal sanctuary. In a fierce 15-minute gun battle, several gangsters were killed, some were seized and many fled.

Over the next three days, according to the video, the Taliban smoked out numerous criminals from their hideouts all over North Waziristan. Many were executed at mass rallies in Miramshah Bazaar.

The Taliban movement
In a similar manner, the Taliban emerged as a reformist movement against criminals and warlords in Zabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan about 16 years ago.

The Taliban have shown their muscles so powerfully in North Waziristan that Pakistani forces have just stepped away. It has now become a popular movement with the complete support of local tribes.

The Taliban have attracted thousands of foot soldiers from all over, including Arabs, Chechens, Pakistanis, Afghans, Uzbeks and local tribals. North Waziristan is now their "Islamic state" and base from which to launch a summer offensive in Afghanistan.

According to Asia Times Online investigations, more than 100 suicide squads have been lined up for the summer assault. These squads have precise targets all over Afghanistan. The Taliban leadership is also encouraged by the strong representation of Islamists in the new Afghan parliament as potential supporters.

The Taliban have already disseminated warnings to all the governors in the south and southeast of Afghanistan not to mobilize forces in search of the Taliban - or else they will face the music in the form of suicide attacks. (On Tuesday in the southern city of Kandahar, a suicide bomber attacked a guard post outside the police headquarters, killing 13 people and wounding 11.)

Local Taliban commanders such as Mullah Dadullah are already in the field to sway Afghan tribes in the Pashtun heartlands of Afghanistan to be prepared for the offensive.

Contacts in the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan - a major resistance group - in Kabul maintain that the long absence of commander Kashmir Khan had led many to believe that he had been arrested by US forces. However, he recently emerged from hiding and has become the main engine of the resistance in the Kunar Valley, where he is cultivating local tribes for support.

"If this military strategy is implemented it would have serious consequences for the allied forces in Afghanistan, especially at a time when they are mounting pressure on Iran," commented an intelligence analyst. "However, the Taliban made tall claims about winter suicide attacks, but barring a few events they failed to inflict major losses on allied forces."

That was before the Taliban secured a base in North Waziristan, though. This time around could see a very different outcome.

Next: The resistance route from southern to southeastern Afghanistan

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Bureau Chief, Pakistan Asia Times Online. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com.
(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing .)


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(Feb 4, '06)

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(Feb 1, '06)

The Afghan exit strategy
(Jan 19, '06)

Armed and dangerous: Taliban gear up (Dec 22, '05)

 
 



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